Florida Education Association argues mandate requiring schools to reopen is unconstitutional

A two-day hearing for a lawsuit filed by the largest teacher’s union in Florida picked back up Thursday.

The union, the Florida Education Association, argues that a mandate requiring schools to reopen this month is unconstitutional. That case is still being argued.

The Florida Education Association alleges that the July 6th order by the education commissioner violates the state constitution.

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Lawyers for the teacher’s union are trying to argue that because the Florida constitution guarantees the right to “safe” and “secure” public education, the education commissioner cannot required schools to open during the pandemic.

Richard Corcoran’s directive requires school districts to reopen brick-and-mortar schools by the end of the month, for at least five days a week, and that they offer all services to families under the threat of withdrawing state funding.

Hillsborough County school board member Tamara Shamburger said the danger of the virus outweighs the benefits of in-person learning.

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“The lack of a laptop, or the lack of access to the internet, certainly pales in comparison to a loss of life,” she said.

Attorney David Wells, who represents the state, said many children and parents want brick-and-mortar schools to be open, and the state wants them to have that option.

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“There is no student who is being forced back to school. These students are going back because they want to and because their parents want them to. There is no teacher that is being forced to go back to school,” Wells said.

While the legal argument plays out in court, many school districts have already sent teachers and students back to class.

If a judge sides with the union, it would give the power to keep schools open to each individual district.

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Orange County is preparing schools and classrooms to welcome back students.

On Tuesday, school board voted to move forward with the plan no matter the outcome of the case.

But, if a judge orders the district to shut down again, it has a plan.

“We would put out a message on connect orange and social media and on every other venue to communicate with our parents. We think it’s highly unlikely but that’s our plan if we have to,” Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said.

At the local level, the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association also filed suit against the school district saying it’s unsafe to have kids in these classrooms.

The union decided to hold off on that part of its lawsuit until finding out what happens with the FEA case.

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Reporter Steve Barrett returned to WFTV in mid-2017 after 18 months in the Twin Cities, where he worked as Vice President of Communications for an Artificial Intelligence software firm aligned with IBM.

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Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.

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Cierra Putman,

Cierra Putman flew south to join Eyewitness News in July 2016.

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Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.